California is taking steps to curb the tragically high maternal mortality rate among black women with a new bill called the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act.
Authored by California state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D), who is a black mother, the bill includes mandatory implicit-bias training programs for all perinatal healthcare providers. Once providers goes through the necessary training, they’re required to take a “refresher” course every two years—more “if deemed necessary by the facility.” Providers receive a certificate of completion after finishing the program.
This training is necessary to stop the dramatic rate at which black women are dying during childbirth. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) found that between 2011 and 2015, about 42 black women died per every 100,000 births, more than women of any other race. Among white women, there were only 13 deaths per every 100,000 births.
The bill also makes the data surrounding black mothers’ mortality rates more transparent, requiring hospitals to include additional information such as how far along the mother was in her pregnancy or if her death occurred during childbirth.
Currently, the U.S. holds the highest maternal mortality rate among all developed nations. According to the CDC, most of the deaths are due to hemorrhaging, infection or sepsis and cardiovascular conditions. All of these are preventable conditions that should not be taking the lives of so many black women. Leta Shy, an executive editor for Self, wrote about her emergency C-section (Leta cited that black and Asian infants have the highest chance of being delivered via emergency C-section—she is both) and her accompanying ten-day stay at the hospital due to a bacterial infection. She wrote that even though she works for a women’s health magazine, she had no idea of all the health risks specific to black women.
But overall, women’s health concerns have historically been dismissed or diminished by healthcare providers—with it amplified for black women. And influential celebrities such as Serena Williams are not exempt. In January 2018, Serena told Vogue that after delivering her daughter Olympia via emergency C-section, the baby went silent after the cord was cut. Then, Serena told a nurse she was feeling short of breath, and needed a CT scan and the blood thinner heparin, in case she was having a pulmonary embolism due to her history of blood clots. Instead of listening to Serena’s instinct, the nurse told her she was just getting confused because of the pain medication she was on. But when a doctor did run the scan, Serena was right; blood clots had formed in her lungs. She ended up having life-saving surgery but spent her first six weeks as a new mom unable to get out of bed.
Regardless of financial or social status, black women are in crisis when giving birth in the U.S. writes Sen. Holly Mitchell in the bill. “Black women deserve better,” she further explained in a press release and Tweet. “Bias, implicit or explicit, should no longer impact a woman’s ability to deliver a full-term baby or to survive childbirth.”